The Historians: Poems

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Messud, Boland, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Claire Messud, Eavan Boland, and more—that are publishing this week.

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Kant’s Little Prussian Head and Other Reasons Why I Write by Claire Messud

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Kant’s Little Prussian Head and Other Reasons Why I Write: “In this moving and evocative essay collection, novelist Messud (The Burning Girl) reflects on family, art, and why she writes. Her essays conjure up an itinerant 1970s childhood—moving from the U.S. to Sydney, Australia; visits with her maternal grandmother in Toronto; and summers with her paternal grandparents in Toulon, France. She illuminates the two women who shaped her—her fiercely traditional French Catholic ‘spinster aunt,’ and her mother, discontented with having given up career for family. Reflecting on family vacation trips to the world’s incipient hot spots—in Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Sri Lanka, among others—she discovers that regardless of differing ideas or ‘strangenesses of culture… always at the heart are the ordinary people, and there is just life, being lived’—good preparation for becoming a novelist, she says. Art, she writes, has the power ‘to alter our interior selves,’ and she offers nuanced appreciations of, among others, Camus, like her father a Frenchman born in colonial Algeria; Valeria Luiselli, who tries to find new ways to ‘document’ the present; and Marlene Dumas, a figurative painter ‘driven by gesture, and serendipity… and by the confluence of diverse inspirations.’ These intimate, contemplative and probing essays reveal Messud’s rich inner life and generosity of spirit.”

Ramifications by Daniel Saldaña París (translated by Christina MacSweeney)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Ramifications: “In Mexican writer París’s strange and elegant latest (after Among Strange Victims), the unnamed narrator toggles between past and present from the confines of his bed, contemplating his childhood, his father’s death, his relationship with his older sister, and the disappearance of their mother. The despondent narrator claims to never leave his bed and holds onto the self-absorption of his childhood, when he cultivated an ‘egocentric theocracy’ and felt he was god’s ‘favorite human being.’ He was 10 when his mother, Teresa, walked out on the family in 1994, and afterward the narrator grew closer to his sister, Mariana, while obsessively searching for the letter Teresa had left their father. As an adult, the narrator finally discovers the letter, along with another sent from Chiapas, each of which only brings him more angst and confusion, as he remembers the rumors about her activity that circulated when he was a child (did his mother join the Zapatistas in the jungles of Chiapas? Was she a murderer?), causing his social life to crumble as he spent hours in a closet he calls his ‘Zero Luminosity Capsule.’ Along the way, París brilliantly explores memory, masculinity, and familial drama in equal measure. The result is an affecting account of arrested development.”

The Lost Shtetl by Max Gross

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Lost Shtetl: “Gross’s lively and imaginative debut novel (after the memoir The Mensch Handbook) portrays a Jewish village in eastern Poland that’s been isolated throughout the 20th century. The residents of Kreskol survive pogroms and the hateful superstitions of Christian neighbors (‘For generations the priests had said that we poisoned drinking wells…. Or, alternatively, that we used the blood of Christian children in our matzahs, depending on which priest you consulted’), and remain unaware of modern technology and culture. Outside contact is limited to occasional visits from a Roma caravan until a recently divorced Kreskol woman runs away, her ex-husband follows, and baker’s apprentice Yankel Lewinkopf is sent by the rabbi to find them. Traveling with the Roma, Yankel reaches the city of Smolskie, where his confusion and strange behavior land him in a mental ward. Doctors think Yankel may be delusional when he talks about his village, while Yankel has an equally hard time believing the doctors who tell him about the Holocaust. Finally, Yankel is helicoptered back home, accompanied by officials and reporters, and Kreskol must contend with its new fame and all the attendant complications. The narrator, a present-day villager, is well versed in Jewish traditions and human foibles, alternately reminiscent of early Isaac Bashevis Singer and a Catskills comedian. Gross’s entertaining, sometimes disquieting tale delivers laugh-out-loud moments and deep insight on human foolishness, resilience, and faith.”

The Blind Light by Stuart Evers

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Blind Light: “This engrossing tale from Evers (Your Father Sends His Love) revolves around two men, Drum Moore and Jim Carter, who meet in 1959 at a civil defense base known as Doom Town, where they work on nuclear war simulations. The men’s friendship begins during a game of cards and extends over five decades as they each marry and have children. In the 1970s, they arrange to live on adjacent properties and share a bunker in event of nuclear war. Over the course of this long setup in which the families are brought together, Evers explores the lives of Drum’s wife, Gwen, and their children, Nate and Anneka. Gwen’s ache is palpable on the page as she considers an affair with a writer. Anneka, meanwhile, leaves home in her late teens in 1980, following an incident involving James’s son in the bunker, which Drum tries to make her believe was a dream. Later, Nate, now in his 20s, has relationships with men and women. Evers’s narrative strategy often asks readers to recalibrate and fill in the gaps—divorces and other pivotal events happen off-page—but the effort is worthwhile. With its slow burn, Evers’s vivid, perceptive chronicle of secrets and desperation satisfies.”

Also on shelves this week: Fractures by Carlos Andrés Gómez and The Historians by Eavan Boland.

Bonus Links:
A Year in Reading: Claire Messud (2015)
A Year in Reading: Claire Messud (2013)

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